I get asked this question a lot in my counseling sessions. So, I thought I would take some time to address it here. Most of the time I am asked by one member of a marriage or relationship if their partner is narcissistic. Usually this is a question that they ask because they are genuinely confused as to why their spouse always seems to control the conversation, belittle or dismiss their opinions, or seem to have a sense of entitlement.
The first thing I check is if anyone else outside of the relationship sees this pattern? Do other family members, friends, or co-workers see these behaviors or is it just around you that he or she acts this way? If your spouse is treating other people this way and/or they have a history of doing this in their past, then it’s more likely that are narcissistic. However, what if you are the only one that they seem to act this way around. Does that make them a narcissist? Honestly, it makes it less likely. If a certain behavior only shows up in one setting, then there is something about that setting that is causing the behavior. In other words, if you are the only one who thinks your spouse is a narcissist then you might what to consider other possibilities. One possibility is that your marriage has reached gridlock.
A marriage that is in gridlock tends to look like this:
- There has been a long period of mutual pain, frustration or disappointment.
- It has been a long time since you each genuinely enjoyed being in each other company.
- When you fight neither you nor your spouse view it as productive.
- When you fight neither you nor your spouse feel “heard”.
Marriages in gridlock get that way because one or both spouses feel hurt. Because they have been hurt repeatedly by their partner they stop seeking the other partners well-being. Instead the hurt spouse begins to focus on “damage control”. Their goal becomes just getting through each day with their head down and hoping that they don’t piss of the other spouse.
This type of mentality causes a person to mimic many of the signs of narcissism. The person starts to control the conversation instead of listening because they are trying to prevent you from hurting them with your words or tone of voice. They begin to focus predominantly on their own opinion and will often stop trying to convince you they are right and will just tell you they are right. This happens because they haven’t felt “heard” in a long time. And when you don’t feel heard you shout your opinion even louder.
Furthermore, a gridlocked marriage can lead to a spouse developing a sense a sense of entitlement. This happens because both partners feel as though they have already given up a lot for this marriage and now their partner is asking for more.
Maybe they feel like they already do spend enough time with the kids, but you want more.
Or maybe they feel that they are already having sex more often they want, but you want more.
Often times their spouse doesn’t seem to appreciate how much they have given up to make this marriage work, so why give more up?
Finally, narcissism and gridlock both look very similar because pain causes all of us to be self-focused and narcissistic. Have you ever known someone who is sick or in pain to not be narcissistic? So, if you think your spouse is a narcist get a second opinion.
Maybe you’re right and you are married to an unhealthy individual but what if is just a symptom that your marriage is near the point of no return? Are you willing to end a marriage without trying everything you could to save it? Seek a second opinion either from a trusted therapist or read a book on the subject.
For more information about being married to a narcissist I would recommend Shannon Thomas’ book “Healing from Hidden Abuse”. She outlines what narcissistic personality disorder looks like and how those people tend to behave.
If you are having troubles or unresolved issues in your marriage or relationship, I can help you. Reach out to me today and schedule your initial appointment.